For years and years I struggled with my hands and arms in my dance and once I began taking privates on the subject, delving into various arm carriage styles and figuring out what worked and didn’t work for my personal “look”, things began to improve each year.
The road to fluid arms and hands is not an easy one, but one we all will experience, and at some point or another have to hone in on it if we want to achieve a higher level of sophistication in our dance.
For me, having a hyper wrist has always been a struggle. I suffer from pre-arthritic tendencies and so softening my wrists and fingers has and always will be a challenge, but by simply paying attention and using some of the tips below, you will see progress.
If you are a reader out there with long arms, but you have no idea what to do with them, this post is for you as well. Simply being born with long, slender arms does not a dancer make. You actually have to know how to use them and from where to activate the movement so it does not look like a flailing mess on stage.
7 Lessons That Helped Improve Arms and Hands
1. If you have hyper wrists try:
a) Place a short dowel across the top of your wrist and forearm and anchor it down with wrist guards. So it stays in place. When I say I had uber hyper, flexed wrists I am not kidding! This was a mentally painful way of ensuring my wrists wouldn’t bend over.
b) Rather than thinking…”relax my wrist, relax my wrist”, think “extend the energy through my middle finger in the direction I want”. If my arms were out to the side in basic (airplane arms lol), I would think of extending the energy through my middle fingers directly to the side.
2. Where are you initiating your movement from?
a) Many dancers simply lift their arms up and down with no idea/analysis of where they are initiating this. Try paying particular attention to your shoulder blades and scapula. You want to have a small squeeze in the shoulder blades (small) towards eachother, and then push them downwards. This will open up and lightly lift the chest and allow for more range and ease of movement with your energy being driven from your back.
b) Elbow Talk: in regards to where to initiate the beautiful round shapes we do with our arms in belly dance (snake arms, forearm rolls, etc…), lead with your elbows. Typically elbow, wrist, fingers is the order that will lead to very fluid, rounded, and sophisticated arm movements. Leading with the elbows was a quick and somewhat easy-to-get-used-to way that instantly improved my arms.
3. Do not over do your fingers…
a)What I mean by this is, if you begin to stress and find yourself clamping or curving your fingers, chances are you need to take a deep breathe and relax your fingers. In oriental dance, the hands are typically very soft. Focus on the middle finger having the energy and simply let the other fingers follow along for the ride.
If you try to give all of the fingers energy, you may achieve tense finger syndrome instead. I was very guilty of this in the beginning, it took some work, but letting the fingers follow the middle organically always did the trick.
4. Understand your shoulders
a) When I was figuring out windmills it became apparent that rotating in my shoulder socket allowed for a much wider range of motion and ease rather than simply trying to fling an arm around and hope it looked nice.
As your arms go from the front to the top things are easy, but as soon as you need to bring the arm back and down in the windmill that is where students will typically feel the restriction. To resolve this, simply rotate your arm and hand outwards (away from you), initiating this by rotating the shoulder when you are beginning to rotate the arm back . You will feel a release instantly!
5. Think Round not Bent
a) This was one lesson/technique that made sense once I actually saw video. If you imagine your arm position as being round so that you can hold an imaginary basket within it rather than more squared off, you will notice you have created more space. You can feel the lift in your elbow a bit better, and the visual effect will be much stronger. Think of that imaginary basket when trying to hit some very strong yet organic poses. If you simply bend at the elbow, things will be a bit more closed and geometric.
6. You don’t need your neck to move your arms
a) I repeat, you do not need your neck to tense in order to move your arms. Imagine that there is an imaginary 5lb weight over each shoulder. When you initiate from you back and squeeze the shoulder blades slightly together and then push them downwards you will feel this sensation always. In turn, this allows you to obtain more space between your neck and shoulders. Your neck should not be looking as if a vein is about to burst in oriental dance. The neck should be long and relaxed ideally.
If you find your neck looks very tense, it can be one of most likely a combination of the following habits:
> You are holding your breathe when you initiate your arms
> Your are not drawing from the back, muscles so you are doing much more work than you need to and your neck is feeling that
> You aren’t maintaining a chin up or leveled angle of your face.
7. Practice the Arms Seated for a bit…
a) It is no secret that I feel the music from my abdominals fist and legs second. Arms weren’t my “thing” when I began. It wasn’t until I was forced to sit down, and only “dance” a song using my arms that I realized just how weak I was in them, and how I could now focus them in my practice.
By sitting down, the arms now took all the attention and practicing this way for about 20-30 minutes each time until they became stronger, with better technique and became ingrained into the muscle memory made it much easier once I stood up. Only then did they know what to do once layered with the rest of the isolations.
I truly hope this blog helps anyone out there who has struggled with their hands and arms and wants to achieve better results. I do teach an entire private coaching program around these as they take some discipline. If you would like more information visit my classes page under the “Make me amazing program” and simply write “arms” in the paypal comment.
Have a beautiful day of dance and let me know what your belly dance arm/hand triumphs and challenges have been below.